The Shining Explained: Part 2

The Shining Explained: Part 2

This is a continuation of my analysis of Kubrick’s The Shining.  For Part 1, go here.

7. Jack, after encountering the lady in room 237, calmly tells Wendy afterward that he did not see anything, and subsequently argues against leaving the hotel.  This lady might be presumed to be the mother of the twin girls, but for half of the scene she is shown as an elderly woman, and never with any violent wounds.

This is the most difficult part of the movie to comprehend, because at first it doesn’t seem like a contradiction: Jack’s words to Wendy seem like an obvious cover up of what he has just experienced in room 237. In fact, however, Jack is telling the truth about finding nothing, which explains A) his calm demeanor during the exchange with Wendy and B) his adamant refusal to leave the Overlook, which would be an odd position for someone to take upon being chased by an old and rotting naked ghost-woman.

My central insight here has already been argued elsewhere, by Rob Ager of collativelearning.com. I intend to clarify and add to that insight, which is this: Immediately following the awkward scene in which Danny attempts to retrieve his fire truck from his room and winds up having an eerie conversation with Jack on his lap, Jack molests Danny off-screen. This incident results in Danny’s neck wounds and causes him to become almost catatonic for the remainder of the movie (“Danny’s gone away Mrs. Torrance”).

Stay with me. This is a heavy claim, and might seem like a stretch. But you’ll buy it. The evidence is extensive. First, consider the eeriness of the fire truck scene itself. Watch it again, if you have the movie available. Jack’s dialogue in this scene is noticeably strange, consisting largely of cryptic phrases like, “I can’t [sleep]. I’ve got too much to do.”  Danny clearly notices that something is off, and appears quite scared, even requesting reassurance that “you would never hurt mommy and me, would you?” The scene abruptly ends with an out-of-place “bump” in the instrumental score.

Keeping the strangeness of this conversation in mind, consider the infamous scene near the end of the movie in which Wendy comes across a man apparently receiving fellatio from another man in a bear costume. This scene is often cited as a random “WTF” moment. But recall the scene early in the movie in which Danny talks to the psychologist. Danny is lying on a large pillow that has the face of a bear (see picture). During the talk with the psychologist, the image of Danny’s face beside the face of the pillow-bear recurs several times. This image reveals the purpose of man in the bear costume: to tell us that Danny (who is the bear, as the pillow implies) has been sexually forced upon Jack. Note in addition that Danny is not wearing pants in the psychologist scene.

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This argument opens a gaping hole in the narrative, however: why, then, did Danny say he was attacked by a “crazy lady” in room 237?  The answer: to cope.  It’s reasonable–expected, even–that Danny wouldn’t implicate his father.  The “crazy lady” story sounds very much like what a child would say to repress a trauma.

The scene in which Jack explores room 237 and finds a nude woman is not a literal event, therefore, but Danny’s repressed version of the molestation as he communicates it through “shining” to Dick Hallorann.  (Remember that during that scene, there are shots of a trembling Danny and a horrified Hallorann.)  The room 237 scene is the fire truck scene, viewed through Hallorann’s lens as he “shines” it from Danny, who has repressed the literal events.

For evidence, consider the many parallels between this scene and the fire truck retrieval scene. Both scenes take place in rooms with the same layout (Ullman: “bedroom, bedroom, bathroom”). Both scenes involve an entrant progressing through the layout and seeing someone unexpected—Danny sees Jack awake; Jack sees a woman in the bathtub. Next, we see this unexpected person make the same exact motion: Jack’s “come here” gesture to Danny is exactly the same as the bathtub woman’s moving away the curtain. Next, the entrant approaches the unexpected person and the two interact—Danny sits on Jack’s lap; Jack embraces the nude woman.

The fire truck scene cuts here, but we can infer from the room 237 scene what happens next.  In the room 237 scene, Jack, after embracing the young woman, sees in the mirror that the woman is actually rotting and old, and he recoils in horror. Symbolically, this is what happens to Danny: he readily approaches his father and then, upon being assaulted, realizes the repulsive side to the initially appealing figure.

There is a mirror at the foot of Jack’s bed (Kubrick emphasizes this mirror with fancy camerawork in multiple scenes). Danny would have seen his own molestation in this mirror, which is why in the room 237 scene Jack first sees the ugliness of the woman in the mirror. There is also an editing choice in the room 237 scene that shows the old woman rising from the bathtub, which is odd given that our first sight of the woman was as a young woman, not old. This represents Danny’s realization that the figure he approached (his father) was evil all along, that his initially favorable impression of his father was incorrect. The old woman rising from the bathtub is Jack waking up from his nap as an ugly, evil person, and the shot only comes late in the scene because Danny only realizes too late that he was fooled by his father’s reassuring demeanor.

The brief scene in which an unseen presence rolls a ball toward Danny while he is playing with cars should not be interpreted as a literal event, but rather as the initiation of his communication of the fire truck scene to Hallorann.  Danny is noticeably missing his fire truck in this scene, an indication that his entering room 237 is actually his entering his apartment to retrieve the toy.  The scene cuts as Danny enters room 237 because it is at this point that Danny has begun to repress the events; when we next see room 237, Danny, in his “shining” rendition of events, has replaced himself with his father, and has altered/repressed the sequence as previously described.

So the bruises on Danny’s neck were indeed inflicted by Jack during the off-screen molestation. Even though Jack denies this to Lloyd, he does it right before exclaiming that the last time he hurt his son was “three goddamn years ago,” demonstrating that at this time he is personifying his “past” incarnation. Danny attempts to deal with the traumatic event in various ways, firstly by creating the childlike story that his aggressor was a “crazy lady in one of the rooms,” secondly by succumbing completely to Tony, who, as the psychologist had deduced earlier, helps Danny to cope with the prior violence he has experienced at the hands of his father. This makes sense—the harm from his father escalates, and so does Danny’s reliance on Tony.

The final question to be answered about the room 237 scene is: why, if the room 237 scene is Danny’s psychological invention, does it feature such adult content? The answer is that Hallorann shining3influences what we see as well, since he is receiving the vision.  He sees Danny’s “crazy lady” fabrication through his own personal lens. Note the two pictures of nude women on Hallorann’s bedroom walls immediately before he “shines” the scene from Danny.  It makes sense that the molestation as visualized by Hallorann would feature nudity, rather than fatherly love, as the initial “attractor.”  The 237 scene can be watched, therefore, as a blend between 1) the literal event, 2) Danny’s childish coping story, and 3) Hallorann’s adult perspective.  Truly an original, complex piece of filmmaking that demands even more analysis than I have room for here.

8. Although Danny is white and male, he is still the victim of violence, which doesn’t fit the Overlook’s history of violence against women and minorities.

In every scene after the departure of Stuart Ullman, who wears red, white, and blue, Jack and Danny don these patriotic colors.  By contrast, Wendy wears greens and browns, and at one point a dress with Native American motifs.  The message: Ullman, Jack, and Danny have filled the role of the white men who drove away and killed Native Americans, and Wendy has assumed the unfortunate role of the Native Americans.shining4 And add Chef Hallorann to those associated with Native Americans: in the first storeroom scene there can be seen directly behind his head a Halumet baking powder can, adorned by its “chief” logo (see picture).  Hallorann is also killed on top of a Native American floor design.

Since the Overlook’s power structure excludes women and minorities, in perceived conjunction with the United States’ privileging of white men throughout its history, it makes sense that Kubrick visually links women and minority characters to Native Americans, the first “outsiders” in US history.

But Danny, who wears red, white, and blue, is victimized along with Wendy and Hallorann.  Why?

Put simply: because of Jack’s foolishness.  Danny should be allied with Jack, but Jack’s repeated violence and abuse against Danny halts this potential alliance.  Remember that Jack endows Danny with the ability to “shine” by drunkenly dislocating his son’s shoulder, and that Danny uses this ability to call Hallorann to save Wendy and him.  Delbert Grady seems to foresee this problem with Danny, warning Jack: “Your son has a very great talent. I don’t think you are aware how great it is. And he is attempting to use that very talent… against your will.” Grady worries specifically that Danny “is attempting to bring an outside party into this situation … a nigger cook.”

Minorities are not to meddle in the affairs of the Overlook, Grady implies with this warning, and Danny, who, by his race and gender, should be a conspirator, is instead helping the exploited.  Grady suggests based on this that Danny and his encouraging mother “need a good talking to… perhaps, a bit more.”  Isn’t this reminiscent of political attempts to curtail the rights and opportunities of minorities? What Kubrick is saying here—and he is probably right, historically—is that for outsiders to gain entry into structures that have long excluded them, they need some help from the inside, from those already part of those structures.

Danny, then, is that inside help; he is the monster that Jack created—the undoing of it all. Danny will not follow in Jack’s footsteps, because Jack has abused him; instead, he will help the potential victims escape their fates.  Recall that in Jack’s final moments in the maze he acts like a drunkard—fitting, because it was his own drunken injuring of Danny that, in the end, fatally foiled his attack (“Hair of the dog that bit me!”).

9. All of the “ghosts” that Jack converses with appear in front of mirrors, suggesting that Jack is talking to himself. However, there is no mirror in the scene where Jack speaks to Grady in the store room.

Many believe, incorrectly, that the mirrors demonstrate that Jack is talking to himself rather than Grady, Lloyd, and the woman in room 237—that they are the mere inventions of an insane man. This theory loses steam in several places. Firstly, the ghosts that Danny and Wendy encounter do not have mirrors behind them. Secondly, Grady actually lets Jack out of the store room (where there isn’t even a mirror), definitively disproving all arch-theories of the “None of it was real” variety.  The ghosts are in fact real—the store room scene makes that clear. And as previously discussed, the tangible intervening of Delbert Grady demonstrates the tangible influence of old power structures.

What of the mirrors, then?

The mirrors are simply another reinforcement of the connection between past and present, which we have already seen in the inclusion of a Charles and Delbert Grady, and in the same reincarnation dynamic at play with Jack. Put succinctly: When Jack talks to Lloyd and Grady, he is talking to people just like himself, hence the mirrors. (The room 237 scene is not a literal occurrence, as we have seen, so the lady’s appearance in the mirror is not of significance here.) Grady, Jack, and Lloyd are all part of the Overlook’s “boys club,” and so Jack can see a lot of himself in those two companions, although they are long dead. This is the meaning of the mirrors in these two sets.

But there is even more to the mirrors. Watch again the scene after Wendy accuses Jack of harming Danny’s neck (a correct accusation, as we have seen). Jack walks down the hallway in front of the Gold Room, passing mirrors on his right (our left). Each time he passes a mirror, he makes a gesture of frustration, accompanied by a jolt in the musical score. This is Jack feeling guilty about what he has done to Danny—he cannot stand the sight of himself after what he has done.

The million-dollar question that Kubrick asks, though, is, can we—the viewers—stand our own reflections? This question is the underlying premise of another famous scene, in which Danny uses Wendy’s lipstick to write on the bathroom door, “REDRUM.”  When Wendy wakes up, she sees in the mirror what Danny has written, which now appears as “MURDER.” The takeaway? When we as a nation look in the mirror, we should see murder: the murder of Native Americans, the spirit of which continues to inform the power structures of the United States.  When the credits roll, the song that was playing finishes and is replaced by the sound of people talking idly—the sound of the moviegoers leaving the theater, unaware of the social implications of what they have seen.  Kubrick is mocking his own viewers.

The Shining is a damning criticism of the United States from Kubrick, but he does more than criticize: he offers a solution. Remember the way that Danny escapes Jack in the maze. He retraces his steps, fooling Jack and effectively killing him. This heroic act is what Kubrick wants us to do, figuratively; it is his solution to the unequal society which we live in (as of 1980, when the movie was released): Retrace our steps. To have knowledge of history, to acknowledge history, to “shine”—this is how we escape the maze and save our society from violence and corruption.  By the film’s end, Kubrick wants us to shine with Danny and Wendy, to be aware of the sinister undercurrent of our nation’s history and ready to retrace our steps and begin to correct the problem. An honest appraisal of our history would be a major change, since, as Kubrick shows us, the tendency heretofore has been to simply “Overlook.”

 

—Jim Andersen